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Peter Millett

Ambassador to Libya, Tripoli

Part of UK in Jordan

29th May 2013

Waffling at The WEF

Over the last few weeks I have heard lots of people talk about “The WEF”, as if there was a mysterious secret society that only a privileged few belonged to. Maybe you had to speak a coded language of “Weffery” to be in with the in-crowd.  What were my impressions?

The event was huge: over 900 people gathering over a weekend at the Dead Sea to discuss economic and regional issues. This is Davos-on-Sea organised with Swiss precision. So the organisation runs like clockwork and every event starts bang on time. Everyone – and I mean everyone – had to wear their security badge and swipe it in at every stage.

As with many conferences, the networking opportunities are one of the main attractions. Those who thrive on handing out business cards have a field day. Old acquaintances meet up and renew contact. New potential business opportunities are identified and pursued. The buzz in the corridors is loud and vibrant fuelled by copious quantities of coffee and canapés.

In practice the Forum consists of a range of panels grappling with the big issues of the day, mainly the economy and how to generate growth in the Middle East. Each panel consists of a row of important people sitting opposite the audience in comfy chairs. The comfort of the chairs can be an illusion, because the questions can be tough.

The skill of the moderator is as much about keeping the speakers to the point as making sure the audience asks real questions rather than play to the gallery.

Was it all worth it? Undoubtedly yes.

Our visiting Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude was able to meet Jordanian Ministers and discuss Jordan’s participation in the Open Government Partnership, the importance of transparency as a driver for improving public sector services and thereby promoting growth. He also met regional leaders.

My most unusual experience was meeting a delegation of six senior officials in a tiny room with only three chairs. The interpreter had to squat on the floor and the rest of us sat on the floor. And there was so much noise from conversations outside that we could hardly hear what was said.

The value of the Forum was in many of the side meetings.

For example, it was gratifying to find so many entrepreneurs from Jordan and the region in one place, confirming the vibrancy of the private sector.  The sessions on start-ups and Small and Medium Enterprises were over-subscribed, illustrating the deep interest in these sectors and the vital role they have to play in generating growth in the region.

The value was also in the big high-profile events, most notably President Abbas’ opening speech and the session called “Breaking the Impasse” with President Abbas, President Peres and US Secretary John Kerry. As a demonstration of political will it rightly made the headlines. Twitter was full of scepticism that any impasse could be broken, but it is surely better to encourage effort than to bleat about inactivity.

For me, one of the most telling discussions was on foreign policy, where Mr. Maude talked about how the UK was using its G8 Presidency to promote growth and jobs in the Middle East. The discussion inevitably focused on the Arab Spring where one of the Egyptian speakers spoke about the way that expectations from the revolution had been disappointed.

People who had hoped for dignity, opportunity and democracy had been disappointed. Poverty and bad services prevailed and the prospect of progress was absent.  He also spoke of the need to solve the Palestinian problem, not just manage it.

This contribution illustrates one of the main benefits of the WEF: that people can speak freely and frankly without looking over their shoulders or worrying about who is listening and taking notes.

“Waffle” is a pejorative term. One or two speakers might have been guilty of it. But for most it was an opportunity to speak their minds and relish the fact that their views were respected by others.

1 comment on “Waffling at The WEF

  1. Dear Peter,
    as you meanwhile do surely know, I like to interpret your proper articles into my way of thinking , by starting with your last lines. So I do agree , that “Waffle” is a pejorative term. Maybe not only 2 or 3 speakers or tolders are “guilty” for such word-monsters. Nevertheless : If terms like these are an opportunity to speak in clear words about different opinions I don ´t see a problem.
    Esp. in re . of the described Palestinians and Jordanians and their hope for dignity and democracy. I only do hope , that they didn ´t get disappointed again. I also would only wish, that conferences like the well described one at the Dead Sea will once born fruits. I mean it ´s nice to read, that 900 people were gathering at this “Davos-on Sea” place. I ´m only doubting if all those net-workers were working their connections in such a good way out so that the right people – with NO VOICE , NO NET – the Palestinians/Jordanaians/Syrian-Refugees will once benefit from this conference or at least from the aftermath.
    Best wishes, allerliebste Grüssle, Ingo-Steven Wais , Stuttgart

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About Peter Millett

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as Ambassador to Libya. Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015. He was High Commissioner to…

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as
Ambassador to Libya.
Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015.
He was High Commissioner to Cyprus from 2005 – 2010.
He was Director of Security in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
from 2002-2005, dealing with all aspects of security for British
diplomatic missions overseas.
From 1997-2001 he served as Deputy Head of Mission in Athens.
From 1993-96 Mr Millett was Head of Personnel Policy in the FCO.
From 1989-93 he held the post of First Secretary (Energy) in the UK
Representative Office to the European Union in Brussels, representing
the UK on all energy and nuclear issues.
From 1981-1985 he served as Second Secretary (Political) in Doha.
Peter was born in 1955 in London.  He is married to June Millett and
has three daughters, born in 1984, 1987 and 1991.  
His interests include his family, tennis and travel.